(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, St. Eudokia, is found in Volume 1 of the series.)
It is generally considered that a woman blessed not only with great beauty but with immense wealth as well would be voted the least likely to become a candidate for sainthood, but without so many improbabilities, by human standards, little could be expected in the way of divine miracles. A faithful Christian lives in hope, knowing that the unexpected can and does happen to those who keep the faith. St. Eudokia was, by any standard, unique in so many ways that, had she not found the Savior, she would have crowded the glamorous Cleopatra in the pages of history. She chose the less spectacular course of following Jesus Christ, as a result of which she is not found among the empresses and queens but in the more elite company of the saints of Christianity.
Eudokia was a woman of Samaria who lived her life for Christ during the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117). She seems to have led a charmed life from the outset, enjoying every advantage and achieving an enormous popularity not only among Samaritans but among other people of the Middle East as well. While there is no likeness of her extant, since portraiture of that day was primitive, it is generally acknowledged that she was in all probability the world’s most beautiful woman. This cannot be denied, any more than it can be denied that Franz Liszt was the world’s foremost pianist, despite the fact that there is no stereo recording to substantiate this. In addition to her exquisite comeliness, she had a talent for making money, to the extent that by the time she was twenty-four years old she had amassed a considerable fortune.
Born in Baalbeck, Syria, Eudokia used her good looks to her advantage in winning over the financial support of men of influence, all of whom she had outstripped while still a young lady in a meteoric ascent to the pinnacle of economic success. The entire Roman Empire seemed to be at her feet and she was beset by suitors and others seeking her favor, some of whom lavished expensive gifts on her, which was like carrying coals to Newcastle. She did nothing to discourage this adulation and took delight in unabated revelry with a retinue of fawning sycophants.
Suitors and swains streamed to the palace of Eudokia, but not one could win her over and they were dismissed unceremoniously. One day, however, a man came to see her who was neither suitor nor swain and who, unlike the others before him, was not brushed aside. He was allowed to see Eudokia, and it was not long before he had conquered her heart. This man was a monk whose name was Gerasimos, a holy man who offered her the wealth of the love of Jesus Christ, a treasure she clasped not too long after Gerasimos came to her. She induced Gerasimos to remain in a large hall next to the palace which had heretofore been the scene of orgies, but which was now converted to a chapel in which the monk held services and where Eudokia was consumed by the Holy Spirit, eventually becoming an instrument of good.
Eudokia was thirty years old when she gave herself over completely to the service of Jesus Christ. Her first act was to build a monastery near the city of Baalbeck, where she administered the disposition of her vast wealth to projects for charity. She sold her extensive real estate holdings, including her fabulous palace, and poured the money into a fund for the needs of the Church and for the underprivileged. In a short time her monastery became a beacon which attracted thousands of spiritually as well as physically starved people, and Eudokia became famous for the beauty of her soul as well as her face, acquiring in the process of her noble work a proximity to God no treasure could buy.
The stream of suitors to the palace became a river of pilgrims to her monastery, but there was one suitor named Philostratos who was persistent enough to seek her out in the hope of securing favor before her fortune had been dissipated. Eudokia refused to help him, and, when in his anger he seemed struck dead by the Lord, she prayed to God for his recovery. Brought back to his senses, he was easily converted to Christianity.
The continual conversion of so many pagans by Eudokia brought down upon her the full wrath of the Syrian officials, who had her beheaded on March 1, 107.